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Guest Blog – How to give an engaging scientific presentation

Blog by Beth Eyre

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Giving presentations is something that you can’t always hide from in science, and it’s one of those things that if you put off, they just become more and more daunting (in my experience anyway). In this blog I’m going to give some tips that others have passed on to me and that I’ve learned from my own experiences over the past couple of years.

I get very nervous before any presentation I give. It doesn’t matter how many people it’s in front of, it could be 5, it could be 500: I’ll still get nervous. I remember during my talk at the ARUK conference this year where my legs were shaking behind the podium but when people spoke to me afterwards, they told me how confident I looked up there – which to me was hard to understand seeing as I’d not felt nerves like it in a long time – and oh yeah, the fact that my legs were shaking. The point is, even those who may come across as confident whilst presenting their work still get nervous. Some of the tips I’m going to give in this blog probably help me deal with those nerves.

1. The simpler the better

I don’t know about you, but personally there is nothing worse than listening to a talk where I have zero idea what is going on. For me, this can happen quite often, as my background is in psychology and its only over the past couple of years where I’ve really started to delve into the nitty gritty neuroscience that I know adore. So, when giving presentations explain everything. Even if it’s a term that you use in your everyday work, just because you know what it means does not mean the audience know what it means – even if you have an audience of neuroscientists. I think it’s sometimes easy to forget that what we do is actually very niche – nobody will be annoyed if you explain a term they know and for the people in the audience who don’t know that term, by explaining it you’re making your talk more accessible and allowing them to keep up with the story you’re telling. Obviously, it’s important to cater your talk to the specific audience. For example, if you’re giving a talk to a non- specialist audience then you want to explain things in the simplest way possible in order to keep people interested. Whereas, if you’re presenting at a very niche conference, to those in your field you can delve into those details a little more. But as a rule of thumb, if you can explain something in simple terms, then that’s probably a good way to explain it.

2. You are the presentation

In my first year of my PhD, I went to an amazing workshop on how to give engaging presentations (which I would highly recommend attending if your university offers it). One of the main things I took away from this was that people are coming to see you talk. Obviously, they’re interested in the science, but they’re also interested in what you have to say! When I think about the presentations I’ve gone to which I’ve really enjoyed it’s usually when I can see how excited the person is presenting (and also when they don’t just read off their slides). This doesn’t mean you have to walk around the stage like you own it (although I do like it when I see that) all it means is that you just have to try show your passion through your words.

3. Visuals are your friends

Whether that be graphs, diagrams explaining pathways, or even just a fun meme – visuals are definitely your friend! By opting for diagrams and figures that you can walk your audience through (instead of lots of text) it means your audience are more likely to listen to you as they won’t be tempted to just read all the writing on the slide. Plus, you get to show off your data by really having the focus on it. I’ve found bioRender to be a great tool to create engaging visuals for my scientific talks. But, make sure not to overload your audience with lots of visuals on one slide. I know it’s hard not to include everything you’ve worked on, but less can sometimes be more.

4. Practise

I honestly can’t think of anything more frightening then going up to give a talk knowing I haven’t practised it. One reason I do this is to keep to time, so I know what I’m going to say and to calm those nerves of mine. Two things I’ve found to be super helpful when practising is to actually practise in front of someone before you do the real thing. And, if the talk you’re going to give is for a non-specialist audience, one of the best things you can do is run it by someone not in your field. This way you can ask if things need to be added or taken away and it gives you the chance to find out if you get the message you want across.

5. Enjoy yourself

It sounds funny, but try to enjoy yourself. Obviously, this is easier for some people than others as the idea of presenting and showing your work to others can be a very daunting thing. However, the more presentations you do, the more you may start to get a feel for it and hopefully the more you will start to enjoy yourself. Remember, you are the expert and nobody knows your project more than you.

So, I think the only thing left for me to do is wish you luck with your next talk! Good luck!


Beth Eyre

Author

Beth Eyre is a PhD Student at The University of Sheffield, researching Neurovascular and cognitive function in preclinical models of Alzheimer’s disease. Beth has a background in psychology, where she gained her degree from the University of Leeds. Inside and outside the lab, Beth loves sharing her science and we are delighted to have her contributing as a regular blogger with Dementia Researcher, sharing her work and discussing her career. 

 

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